Speaking of what he called “the awesome lustre of Sappho’s simplest words,” Kenneth Rexroth once asked, “Is it there or do we read it into her fragments?” and gave his answer: “Partly it is a function of attention. If you isolate two sentences of a skillful description of passion or of Nature and say—‘pay attention, these are by the greatest lyric poet who ever lived,’ the mind will find values in them which may have been there, but which would normally have been passed over.” A high claim, but readers have often pitched their praise of Sappho at this height. Enough to scare translators away, one might think, yet they keep coming, most recently Jim Powell.

No fully satisfying version of any of her longer lyrics has ever, to my knowledge, been written, but single lines or brief fragments have sometimes come across into English. Sometimes:


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